PCOS Awareness Month: Where My Cysters At?!

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This isn’t actually the post I’d planned on posting today, but a friend (see her blog here!) brought my attention to the fact that September is PCOS Awareness Month. This post has been in the works for a while, but what better time to post it than a month dedicated to the topic?

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a reproductive illness affecting up to 1 in 10 biological females. While ovarian cysts are common and can often be removed, PCOS is diagnosed if there are over 12 cysts on each ovary at any given time (or, this is how it was explained to me during my diagnosis). PCOS is often characterised by an increased amount of male hormones, and can also lead to insulin resistance. PCOS symptoms include acne, excess body and facial hair, weight gain/difficulty losing weight and, possibly most importantly, irregular or heavy periods. PCOS can cause fertility problems and depression, and people with the condition are at higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.

My Experience with PCOS

I was diagnosed with PCOS aged 17, almost 5 years ago. When I was diagnosed, my testosterone levels were in the normal range for an adult male – hardly what you want in an already moody teenage girl! Although I’d started my periods 5 years before, I had never experienced a ‘normal’ period – I had been to the GP several times over the years before my diagnosis, however in younger teenagers irregular periods are common and often level out after puberty. I was put on a 3 month course of contraceptives to encourage my hormone levels to fix themselves when I was about 14, but this turned out to be a short term fix. I was going for long periods of time without bleeding, then getting months when it just didn’t stop.

I remember once during my longest period (several months long!) a girl at school was sent home after starting hers for the first time and being unable to manage the pain. In the mean time, I’d been bleeding non-stop for weeks, passing clots the size of satsumas & still had to grin and bear it!

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When I was finally diagnosed I was put on Dianette, another contraceptive that they only prescribe in the UK for severe acne and hormone imbalance. I found out a while after that Dianette is actually banned in several European countries, such as France and Turkey (both places I was intending to go to!) because it is a much more dangerous pill than most other kinds. There is a risk of blood clots with all oral contraceptives, but this risk is much larger with Dianette. The risk is also increased if you are a PCOS sufferer – as contraceptives are the most common treatment, we really can’t win!

Personally, I haven’t ever had any problems with contraceptives. I experienced some cramps in my legs and was switched to one of the most common pills (the brands I’ve had are Rigevidon and Microgynon but many other brands use the same dosage) almost two years ago. This controls my acne and periods, and for now I’m perfectly happy taking them although I do want children, and will have to discuss different methods of treatment when I do decide to try and conceive.

My Symptoms

As I’ve mentioned, I have terrible skin – although having been on the pill for so long this is largely manageable. My skin is still temperamental, and often facial washes etc that have worked really well before suddenly don’t, but I don’t get anywhere near as much acne as I used to. I also struggle with excess body and facial hair. I’m quite relieved that at the moment I have a one piece swimming costume and no one to impress because I don’t have to shave my stomach! During the summer I often have to shave my legs and underarms daily, and have also shaved my arms before. Let’s not even discuss the bikini line!

As I mentioned before, periods have definitely been a huge struggle. I still get a lot of pain, clotting and heavy bleeding, but the pills have regulated them very well. I get period pain & back ache even when I’m not “on”, but I know that I won’t get my period until the 3 pill weeks are up.

Why I Feel Lucky

While my experience with PCOS hasn’t been easy, I do feel lucky to have been diagnosed when I was and treated quickly. It did take a while to get diagnosed, but this was due to age and I can understand why PCOS wasn’t considered when I started going through puberty; the disease is most commonly diagnosed in the late teens/early 20s.

I feel lucky that my symptoms aren’t as extreme as many peoples’. A lot of the time PCOS is only in the media if a woman has excess facial hair as a result, and chooses not to shave. I don’t have a beard, and don’t need to shave my face. This post describes a horrendous experience, which makes my experience with PCOS seem quite minor, really. I don’t know what my fertility is like and it does worry me. I want children more than anything, and the idea that it could never happen is really scary, but for now I’m on top of the PCOS, I’m happy with my treatment, and babies aren’t something I want to worry about yet!

Why Do We Need PCOS Awareness?

While the symptoms can be controlled, there is no cure for PCOS. It is an illness that can not only be serious in itself but can put sufferers at higher risk of other, more serious conditions. With as many as 10% of adult females affected it just makes sense that there should be more awareness of the condition. While this is a largely invisible illness, it does affect lives in ways that many people aren’t aware of.

See you soon,

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Me Monday | A (New) Graduate’s Guide To University – For All Years!

DON’T PANIC. Yes, this is a big step up, but so was everything that came before it. GCSEs were a big step up from lower school, A Levels were a big step up from GCSEs. If you’re going in to 2nd or 3rd year then 1st and 2nd year were big steps up too. You’ve got this.

Look After Yourself. Your wellbeing is so important, and getting ill is horrible at university – especially near a deadline or an event you were looking forward to. I would recommend keeping a few things stocked up:

Cold & Flu sachets (Yes Fresher’s Flu is real, yes you will get it, no matter how hard you try not to)

Painkillers

Tissues

A multivitamin (Raid Holland & Barrett/Boots – these can be expensive but they’re worth it, especially if you’re not eating very healthily; you need as good an immune system as you can get)

Plasters

Female hygiene products and anything else that helps you through your period (if applicable)

Baby Wipes

Antibacterial hand gel (no one likes sticky tables in bars)

Rescue Remedy (if you get stressed/anxious and aren’t medicated this may help, even if it’s just a placebo effect)

Lip Balm (trust me on this, Vaseline is a life saver on sore noses as well as chapped lips!)

Any Personal Prescriptions – even if it’s an inhaler you don’t use regularly or a skin cream you only need during flare-ups, it’s worth making sure you have any personal medication in case you do find that you need it.

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Know your basic medical history and register with a GP. Even if you think you won’t need it and don’t have any repeat prescriptions or anything, it’s best to register so that you have a doctor near if you need them.

Along the same strain: Be Safe. At my university we had several tragedies over the 3 years I was there. Your university will probably send you an email about meningitis, but be sure to know the symptoms beforehand. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone if your mental health is failing, even if you’ve never been diagnosed or felt like this before. Don’t take anything if you’re not sure what it is, and if you get any adverse effects seek medical attention. If anything bad does happen and you end up in hospital, don’t hide anything from them – you may be embarrassed or have done something illegal, but these people are more concerned about keeping you safe and potentially saving your life than getting you in trouble or judging you.

Of course, I can’t talk about being safe without talking about sex. It should be a no brainer, but if you’re going to have casual sex or sex with someone whose history you don’t know, use a condom – it’s not just pregnancy you want to prevent. Even if you use condoms every time, be sure to get tested regularly if you have more than one partner – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Have fun but be sensible.

Prioritise and Organise. Your wellbeing should come before anything else. After that, the order you prioritise things is up to you, but I’d recommend putting university work high up there- it is the reason you’re there, after all. Organisation is so important, regardless of what year you’re in, and it’s especially important if you have a lot of ‘extra-curricular’ activities such as jobs, societies, volunteering etc. Write things down, even if it’s just on post-it notes somewhere you can’t forget; you don’t want to double book or miss things.

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There is always, ALWAYS, time for a nap. A break could be the difference between you handing in something that reflects how sleep deprived and coffee charged you are and something that you’re actually really proud of. Stopping and taking a breather, even for just a few minutes, isn’t going to cost you.

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Uni me was definitely a big advocate of the nap.

If you do your best, no one can argue with it. There are times when you hand something in that you’re so proud of and are sure you smashed, then it comes back and you only just scraped a 2:1. This is a horrible feeling, but you still know that you did your best and that’s what you’ll be thinking when you finally get to put that cap and gown on.

People drift; let them. It sounds harsh, and it sucks, but people tend to weed themselves out at university. High school friends, fresher’s friends, even some friends later on. If someone isn’t making an effort with you, you don’t have to make an effort with them. It doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly, but it allows you to spend time on those who spend time on you.

First Years:

Don’t forget to be yourself. This is the time to learn about yourself and grow into the person you want to be. Don’t be ashamed of who you are, and look out for societies for the things you love if you want to find like minded people.

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Be prepared to dress up a lot.

Don’t feel like you have to live up to the stereotypes. Not a drinker? That’s okay. Don’t fancy having casual sex? That’s okay. Of course Fresher stereotypes are there because they happen, but you don’t have to do it all just because it’s ‘the done thing’. Prioritise your happiness over being cool, and trust me – whether it’s drunken antics or eating cereal out of a mug, you will have plenty of ‘student experiences’; you don’t have to force it.

Second & Third Years:

Time is on your side! If you get a grade you’re not happy with, don’t panic. You’ve got plenty of time to bring it back and smash it the next time. One grade doesn’t make or break an entire degree. You’re going to be okay.

Third Years:

Dissertation, AKA plan like your life depends on it. Ok, so this is the big one. Everyone who came before you is telling you that you should’ve started it before you even learnt to read, that one kid you’re secretly in competition with already has a first draft and has written an entire encyclopaedia’s worth of notes on their subject and you’re still struggling to pick which pen is worthy of writing your masterpiece. It is huge, I can’t say it’s not, but you CAN handle it. Make sure you set plenty of time aside to work on it and plan everything out over and over again. When it comes to a dissertation, hoarding is your friend. Keep every single note you write for it, even if you think it’s crap and you’ll never use it (okay, maybe throw away the sheet of doodles you did instead of working that one time you said you’d do all of your research in one day) – you really do never know when these things might come in handy. Do plenty of research, reference and keep record of everything, and try and write about something you care about. Take a deep breath. You’re going to be fine.

I’m so jealous of everyone going back to/starting university soon and wish you all the best of luck. You’re going to have a great year.

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If you’re a graduate like me – what tips do you have? Did I miss anything important?

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Reasons to Stay Alive

Even more staggeringly, depression is a disease so bad that people are killing themselves because of it in a way they do not kill themselves with any other illness. Yet people still don’t really think depression really is that bad. If they did, they wouldn’t say the things they say.

Reasons to Stay Alive couldn’t have come into my life at a better time. Recent events have been catalysts for what I believe has been a long time coming. If I’m being completely honest, and I always aim to be here, I am in the midst of possibly the worst depressive episode I’ve ever experienced.

This book opens with author Matt Haig at his lowest. He is 24, living in Ibiza, and about to walk off a cliff. Reasons to Stay Alive discusses this, how he got there and how he got out of it. He talks about lying in bed unable to do anything but feel scared – a familiar image right now – and how he got out of this.

Haig struggles with Depression and Anxiety, as do I, however I believe this book could help anyone with mental health problems. If you have a mental illness, read this book. If you want to understand mental illness, read this book. If you care about someone with a mental illness, read this book. This is one of the most honest and real discussions of mental health I’ve ever read. It’s painful, raw, brutal and yet somehow uplifting.

Before reading this book it felt like I had no hope whatsoever – no job, no money, no driving licence, nothing and no reason to work towards anything. Reasons to Stay Alive, however, does something that is so important for recovery when you’re in such a low period – works in baby steps. Smaller than baby steps, in fact, tiny, miniscule ant steps.

Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.

Haig writes about how he began to see every moment spent thinking of something normal, without anything about his illness surrounding it, as a moment of hope. You are proving to yourself, without even realising necessarily, that you aren’t completely trapped in this feeling. Even if the ‘normal’ moment only lasts for a second, it’s something. It’s a sign that these moments will come, more and more often, until eventually they will take over the moments spent stuck in the depression.

This book has made things seem just a little bit less hopeless. I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic necessarily (let’s not get crazy now), but every time I catch myself thinking of something other than how terrible I feel, every time my stomach unravels enough to eat something, the book has taught me to take it as a sign. This is a slow process, but I will be okay eventually and for now it’s about the smallest victories.

Not all of this will apply to every situation, not every experience is the same, and I will admit that I cried a lot through the section about love and pretty much whenever he discussed how much he needed & appreciated his now wife (if you’re going through a heartbreak I would recommend skipping it unless you want to get bitter, Matt and Andrea are a wonderful couple). I do think, however, that everyone can learn something from this book. This isn’t a dull, useless self help book, this is real, accurate and helpful. Millions of people are dealing with experiences like Matt Haig’s – this story is one that is literally killing people, and Reasons to stay Alive is tackling this head on. Read it.

See you soon,

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Me (sort of) Monday | Quick Life Update!

I know I didn’t post yesterday, which is why I thought I’d post today with just a quick update on life stuff and why I didn’t post yesterday instead.

Previously in my life…

I have been looking for a job for the last month (and since I graduated really, but as I had a work experience placement it was put on hold). I had some interviews last week but unfortunately nothing came of them – one would have been perfect but I’m trying not to get too discouraged; these things happen and something else will come up. I’d love to do something that actually relates to what I want to do in the long run, but at this point I think I’d take anything.

Job searching has been put on the back burner for the last few days, however, as I’m not currently at home. My family & I (well, my parents and youngest brother, the other one is at home) are on Anglesey, an island off North Wales. We came for the bank holiday weekend and are going home tomorrow (hopefully with enough time for me to post my review!). My grandparents live here so it’s been lovely too see them, and my Labrador loves the sea (the Jack Russell isn’t so keen)!

Anglesey is gorgeous, but I don’t think anything I can say will do it justice – I’ll just have to show you:

 

What’s been going on with you? Did you do anything over the bank holiday (if you’re in the UK)? Do your dogs like the sea/swimming?

See you (very) soon,

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Me Monday | Why Do I Blog?

Anyone can blog. The ‘blogosphere’ is saturated and sometimes it feels like there’s very little point in blogging – someone’s probably already covered whatever it is you’re writing about. Although I’ve only been doing it for three months, it’s so easy to lose motivation. This is why I’m so happy to be a part of the #IBlogBecause campaign and reaffirm why I’m doing this – it’s so easy to forget and I definitely need to remind myself sometimes!

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#IBlogBecause:

It’s a way to express myself. Blogging has given me a voice in a way that I just haven’t had before, even in creative writing. People listen to me! I can talk about what I want and the chances are someone else is interested, too.

The community. I’m becoming more involved in blogger chats and trying to find a place in this community – I love finding bloggers who are friendly and positive, empowering each other and supporting each others’ work. The internet can be a really dark place and it’s so good to find people who build each other up instead of shout at each other.

Purely because it’s fun! I enjoy it and I’m finding that I’m keeping up with it a lot more than I thought I would.

Do you blog? Why? Let me know!

See you soon,

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Writing About Writing: Why I Hate The Word ‘Aspiring’

I am very lucky to say that I am friends with a lot of creative people. Doing a creative writing course I naturally made friends with a lot of writers, but I also know a lot of artists, and more recently have come to know a lot of bloggers. One thing all of these creative people have in common, other than much larger emotional ranges than normal and a tendency to lean to the left of political issues, is that they’re all reluctant to label themselves as such.

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Look at these lovely ladies. So much talent in one photo. 

A lot of people I know have a tendency to say they’re ‘wannabe artists’ or ‘aspiring bloggers’. This frustrates me because it shows a lack of confidence in the incredible work they produce. It downplays and even erases the hard work they put in to what they do. I had a seminar tutor once who told us it was bullshit to think of ourselves as anything but writers – we write, therefore we’re writers. We blog, therefore we’re bloggers.

Continue reading Writing About Writing: Why I Hate The Word ‘Aspiring’

Me Monday – Life Update!

I’m back!!

If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t really posted lately. The last few weeks have been crazy and exhausting, so blogging has unfortunately had to be put at the bottom of the pile. But, things are starting to level out, so I thought I’d just do a quick update to let you know what has been keeping me away from the internet (not an easy feat).

Continue reading Me Monday – Life Update!